Regional Council

Halifax council votes for partial review of code of conduct for elected officials

Councillors reject idea of independent integrity commissioner to review complaints

Regional council voted on a motion to review the code of conduct for elected officials.   Michelle Cuthbert

Halifax regional council has agreed to ask staff to review the code of conduct for municipal officials, after Twitter battles called the code into question for one councillor.

Council voted Tuesday on a number of suggestions put forward by Coun. Tony Mancini. Out of five items in the motion, three passed.

The motion requested that the municipality consider instating an integrity commissioner, who could evaluate breaches of the code of conduct independently. It also asked that the code be reviewed annually by each councillor. These items didn’t carry.

Coun. Bill Karsten was against the instatement of an integrity commissioner and an annual review of the code, which he found “personally insulting.”

“I report to the residents I serve, no one else,” said Karsten. “And if they don’t like what I do, they have an option and that comes like clockwork in municipal life, every fourth year.”

The motion also called for a regular review of the code of conduct, a review of the items in the code that discuss interpersonal behaviour and community representation, and a request for an update from the province on a 2016 request that council be able to “censure members by remitting remunerations.”

All of these items passed.

Coun. Richard Zurawski did not support the motion because it showed a “post-modern interpretation” of actions where “almost anything could be looked at in a negative light.”

“You can’t legislate away stupid actions,” he said.

Mancini said he had been thinking about reviewing the code since his election, but a Twitter debate between Coun. Matt Whitman and Coun. Shawn Cleary last month spurred him to action.

The debate started after Cleary announced he would no longer use the term marijuana to describe cannabis products. He said “marijuana” has racist connotations in relation to Mexican communities.

Whitman responded on Twitter that the word couldn’t be racist against Mexicans because Mexican isn’t a race. The ensuing conversation involved insults from either side. When Whitman pointed out that Cleary had “wasted enough of his time,” Cleary responded with “fuck! Don’t I know it.”

Whitman responded in the same manner in an interview with CTV News Atlantic, but used the word “negroes” when describing groups that could be categorized as races. This caused a negative reaction on Twitter from Coun. Lindell Smith, among others.

“That whole debate distracts people; it gets them to look at the negative when there’s more positive,” said Mancini in an interview before the council meeting.

“So when that started it got me thinking about the code of conduct and I wanted to bring it forward.”

Mancini said the suggested review wasn’t “directed at any one person,” and he was “trying to add more meat” to the code to help officials maintain a higher level of professionalism.

“The underlying theme of this is respect,” said Mancini. “Respect for each other, respect for our staff, respect for our residents and I think, respect for ourselves.”

Currently, when a complaint is made about a breach of the code of conduct, council will sit in camera and discuss the breach amongst themselves. This means they are asked to make judgments on their colleagues.

Council discussed 13 complaints regarding the code of conduct in private on Tuesday.